It’s time again for the list of books that I enjoyed most this year. As always, only some of these books were published in 2012, but they were all a part of my 2012 experience.
Each of my top 5 could easily have been #1. In the end, I put Gone Girl in the top spot because on almost every page I muttered to myself, “How is she DOING this?”
I want to be a mystery novel lover, because the genre is so huge and so there are so many pleasures to be had, but I often get halfway through a mystery and admit to myself that I simply don’t care who did it or why (P. D. James is someone who often disappoints me this way). Other times I don’t even get that far, because I am so distracted by the poor writing. There are a few writers who never let me down. Kate Atkinson is one; Tana French (see below) is another; and now, I have Gillian Flynn, and I am so, so grateful.
This was a Christmas gift from my husband, and I read it in less than 24 hours. Heti reminds me of Lydia Davis, but without Davis’s chilly control. Don’t get me wrong – chilly control is what I’m all about – but How Should a Person Be is exhilarating, befuddling, and inspiring. Imagine if Lena Dunham made a film that was only interior monologue – it would be a bit like this novel. Self-absorbed and miniature in detail, yet huge in scope. Full of laugh-out-loud gorgeous turns of phrase. I’ve known of Heti for a while but have never felt inclined toward her work – I’ll go back and investigate her earlier books now.
See comments on Gone Girl, above. Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series is a collection of those rare finds: murder mysteries that are re-readable. Not only did I list her novel The Likeness as one of my Top 10 Books of 2010, but it may be one of my favourite books of all time. Broken Harbour may be just as good. The intersection of intricate plotting with beautiful writing is almost unparallelled. Also: set in Ireland, which can’t hurt.
This book should probably be #1, but my top picks are all so good that ranking them is stymieing me. I love graphic novels. Bechdel’s Fun Home, in which she grapples with the legacy of her complicated father, is also one of my favourite books of all time. In this sequel of sorts, she turns her analytical eye on her equally difficult relationship with her mother. One difference: her mother is still alive, and an active participant in the writing and narration of the story. Fascinating, unrelenting, and funny, and Bechdel’s artwork never fails to slay me.
I have written several posts on Tough’s work, including a review of this book and a meditation on an excerpt that was published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. He is a deep thinker on educational issues, yet he writes fluidly and accessibly and has a warm and gentle sense of humour. This is not just a work of social science; it’s an entertaining and enlightening read.
Another graphic novel. Forney’s chronicle of her battle with bipolar disorder is hilarious, touching, instructive and hopeful. Her honest recounting of her own experience is interwoven with historical and medical info. The central question – “Do I have to be crazy to be a great artist?” – is not answered, but the exploration is illuminating.
One of my projects this year was to prepare a list of 42 children’s books for reading in my Child Studies course. When I asked for recommendations, The Phantom Tollbooth came up over and over. I’d never read it. Now I have. It is great, and the final line is now one of my all-time favourite quotations.
Compiling the above-mentioned children’s book list has involved re-reading lots of old childhood favourites. I’d forgotten how fantastic this novel is. I must have read it 10 or 12 times as a child, and reading it again now was perhaps my most delightful reading experience of the year, not just for the book itself but for the immediacy with which it transported me back to being a child reader, the wonder of which is difficult to retrieve in adulthood.
(Note: the finished list of books for the Child Studies course can be found here, if you’re interested.)
This was also a re-read; it was one of the memoirs I taught in my Personal Narrative course this fall. I thought my students might like it – a story about a father who lets his teenage son drop out of school if he agrees that they watch and discuss three films a week, chosen by the father – but I was surprised by how much they enjoyed it, and how much I enjoyed it the second time around.
Is this a cheat? I didn’t actually read this book – I listened to it as an audiobook, and then bought the book so that I could read it, and haven’t gotten around to it yet. People keep telling me that listening to a book counts, and I loved this book, so it makes the list. If you often wonder if there’s something wrong with you because you don’t love going to parties, you’d rather write an email than talk on the phone, and you feel anxious if you don’t get some alone time every day, then this book is for you. It helped me embrace my introverted weirdness and recognize its strengths.
Please tell me your favourite book(s) of the year! And happy reading in 2013.